If you live in the country, you may come in contact with two stealthy hunters. Red and Gray Foxes, moving under the cover of darkness, will keep the rabbit and rodent populations in check. You can admire their prowess by understanding their lifestyles.
Red Foxes inhabit open fields, brushy fence lines, and the wooded borders of rivers and lakes. Identify them by their reddish fur coat with white undersides; their white-tipped tail is also a distinctive characteristic. Black legs and black-tipped ears complete their attire.
Gray Foxes prefer deciduous forests, wooded swamps, or floodplains, not open areas like their red cousins. Black-and-white guard hairs give them a grizzled, gray appearance. Look for their cinnamon brown legs, a gray belly, and a black-tipped tail. Grays climb trees—the only canine to do so—using their highly curved fore claws.
Both species are similar in size (37 – 40 inches) and hunt alone, not in packs like wolves. Grays hunt tree squirrels and birds from a lofty perch. Prey is carried to a rocky crevice, brush pile, or underground den.
Reds use different methods for hunting different prey. When hunting for small mammals (voles, mice, and chipmunks), the fox walks along a game trail, cocks its head to determine the direction of the prey’s sound, and stares intently with its head held high. The fox slowly stalks toward it without making a sound, crouches down, then lunges in an arch through the air, pinning the animal with its fore paws to the ground. It bites the prey’s neck with sharp canine teeth, and carries it off to a safer spot to play with before eating.
When hunting rabbits, the fox crouches low while stalking slowly toward it. If the rabbit bolts, the fox pursues in a bounding gallop, attempting to bite the legs or rump. If the fox is successful, it pulls the rabbit up, then collapses to the ground, and quickly stands on it while biting the neck or head. A fox will also hunt large insects. When a grasshopper or cricket is detected, the fox walks over, stamps its foot to make the insect move, and then bites at it.
Whether you’ve seen foxes in the wild or not, realize that we all benefit from the stealthy hunters’ job of critter control.